With a band like Maiden, the first album we hear often turns out to be our favourite, and in my own case, that’s no exception. My first “Eddie sighting” was in early 1983, when this 12 year-old rural yokel moved to a much bigger city, where many of the older kids at junior high wore those tacky black, white-sleeved baseball shirts with the covers of The Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind emblazoned on them. However, it wasn’t until the early fall of 1984 that I actually heard an Iron Maiden song, that being their brand-new single “2 Minutes to Midnight”, and in retrospect, you couldn’t ask for a better introduction to the band: Adrian Smith’s undeniable groove riff, those melodic twin leads, Bruce Dickinson’s authoritative vocals spewing lyrics about jellied brains and children torn in two, and most crucially, that all-important hook in the chorus.
And was there a more perfect album for 13-14 year-old boys than Powerslave? The artwork was killer, Derek Riggs’ intricate hieroglyphics containing inside jokes, while the songs themselves were a perfect snapshot of Iron Maiden at their creative zenith, the tracks building to a spectacular climax on side two, first with the wicked, theatrical title track (“OOOOHHHH, HE HE HE HE!!!”) and continuing with Steve Harris’s bombastic, highly pretentious but thoroughly engaging Cliffs Notes version of Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. One can easily make a legitimate case for every Maiden album that came out in the 1980s, and I’ll be the first to admit that the instrumental “Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra)” is a bit of a toss-off, but for a quarter century now Powerslave hasn’t lost an ounce of its gargantuan power, and to this day is an album I still pull out to play with regularity.
But as much as I love this band, would it kill them to perform “Back in the Village” live just once?
My favourite Iron Maiden album is the eponymous debut. While the band would not develop its signature production until Killers, and while the band would not find its signature vocalist until The Number of the Beast, Iron Maiden unleashed a series of indisputable classics with a consistency never again surpassed. Now, this is not meant as a knock against all that came later. Far from it. However, it is a testament to the astounding and sustained high that this album hit. With every track capable of being counted as a Maiden classic (with the exception of “Strange World,” which is nonetheless a fascinating ballad that displays a side of Maiden never again explored), it is difficult to isolate a mere handful of tunes that could be elevated to a position of superiority. From dirty rockers such as “Prowler” and “Charlotte the Harlot” to the immortal epic “Phantom of the Opera,” to the famed instrumental, “Transylvania,” Iron Maiden stands as not only a superlative collection of singles, but also a coherent, fluid, and diverse album. Vocalist Paul Di’anno’s punky delivery imbues the songs with an unvarnished charm that subsequent renditions by Bruce Dickinson never quite captured (to Dickinson’s credit, he brought something quite different to the tracks by playing to his own strengths rather than attempting to emulate Di’anno). Moreover, the raw production brought out the edgy attack of the guitars, which conferred upon the uptempo tracks in particular an exuberant aggression that, again, helps Iron Maiden to stand as a singular album.
Iron Maiden is the sound of a young band already possessed of the self-awareness to recognize what made it unique. Iron Maiden is also the sound of a young band still ensconced in a process of self-discovery. It is that dialectic of self-awareness and self-discovery that makes Iron Maiden an absolutely unique entity within Maiden’s catalogue and within the larger NWOBHM movement. And finally, Iron Maiden is the sound of a young band possessed of the hunger, the hubris, and the capability to take on the world…and win.
Fearsome Web Goddess
I can still remember the very first time I ever heard Iron Maiden. It was 1986 and I was in grade 9. I was sitting in Janet Moriyama’s bedroom on a Saturday morning, flipping through her record collection: The Smiths, The Specials, Duran Duran (dude, we were girls in the mid 80’s, we all had a Duran Duran record), The Police and Iron Maiden.
“Uh, Janet, you don’t actually like this band do you?” I asked incredulously as I disbelievingly looked at the cartoon horror on the cover.
She looked over and said, “Oh, remember my old boyfriend? That’s his.”
“I thought he was a mod?”
“Yeah, he is now. But Iron Maiden used to be his favourite band.” She took the album from me and slipped the platter out of the sleeve. “I kind of like it, actually. Let’s play it.”
“Urgh! Do we have to?” But she’d already dropped the needle and I busied myself looking for a suitable replacement.
Something in the music stopped me and made me pay attention. “It totally sucks! It makes me think of galloping horses. It’s music for horse riders!” That distinctive rhythmic guitar playing was getting under my skin. I wouldn’t admit it, but by the time Run To The Hills began speeding through my ears, I had decided that it wasn’t bad for a heavy metal record.
But, it was heavy metal. And skids listened to that stuff. And I wasn’t a skid. So I handed Janet Meat Is Murder and was relieved to be unchallenged the deliciously homoerotic angsting of The Smiths.
The next time I willingly listened to Iron Maiden was nearly 20 years later when I married a man who claimed Iron Maiden changed his life. Of course, I’ve always secretly loved The Number Of The Beast.
My favourite Iron Maiden album is The Number of the Beast. One night, back when I was 11 or 12 years old, I stayed up late, listening to the radio while finishing a project for art class. The local rock station (back home in Calgary) had a two-hour heavy metal show that aired on Sunday nites, and while I was a big fan of bands like KISS and AC/DC atthe time, I didn’t really know what metal was. Twas in the midst of my late-nite colouring that I first heard the opening strains of the title track to Maiden’s 1982 release.
“Woe to you, oh Earth and Sea
For the Devil sends the beast with wrath
Because he knows the time is short
Let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the beast
For it is a human number. Its number is six hundred and sixty six.”
When Dickinson let out his primal scream at the end of the first verse, I knew I was hooked. My heavy metal fever began with Iron Maiden, and more specifically, The Number of the Beast.
When I tell people that NOTB is my favourite Maiden album, they usually ask why, stating that Powerslave, Piece of Mind and/or (insert album here) is so much better. But from the opening speed-metal burst of “Invaders” to the triple-decker sandwich of “22 Acacia Avenue,” the title track, and “Run To The Hills,” through to the epic strains of “Hallowed Be Thy Name” — which still serves as a set closer after all these years — I’d put this record up with the best of them, even if it didn’t play a crucial role in my formative years as a young headbanger.
My favourite Iron Maiden is their 1982 effort, The Number Of The Beast. The reason why is simple: it is just because basically every track on the album is a classic. There is not a stinker on the album from start to finish. Also, I had been a big fan of Bruce Dickinson since back in the days when he was singing in both Samson and Xero (UK). When he joined Iron Maiden it was a perfect fit; he has always been my choice as best Iron Maiden frontman.
My favourite Iron Maiden album is (as cliché as it sounds) The Number of the Beast. What isn’t great about this album? The title track really sticks close to my heart, and it took me a while to understand why. But more and more I realize that whenever I find myself stuck in a negative mindset, it always makes life better. The musical elements, the lyrics, everything is so vivacious and intense. I love it so much that it’s my ringtone! I know that it’s going to be a good day when I slip Number of the Beast into my stereo before school. “Invaders” is a great start to the album, leaping out to the listener while “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, “Run To The Hills”, and “Children Of The Damned” sum up this classic metal release.
My favourite Iron Maiden album is 1983’s Piece Of Mind. It was the first heavy metal album I ever bought; I remember saving up money from cutting grass during the summer of 1983, going down to the Woolworth’s in my hometown (Simcoe, Ontario) and buying it on vinyl for $7.98. Some of my other friends in the neighbourhood already owned Number Of The Beast, which we would listen to while playing road hockey on a buddy’s ghetto blaster, but I was the first to have Piece out of our crew. It was a mind-blowing album for me as an eleven year old just really discovering music of my own taste that stepped outside of my parents’ easy listening AM radio world. I was so into it in the summer of 1983 that I remember playing it each and every day that summer – and continued doing so for most of the next year. I had a portable record player that I would take from the downstairs playroom out to our front porch, blasting out the album at full volume while shooting tennis balls at our garage door with a hockey stick or washing my dad’s station wagon. It was the album that made me love music – and it is the only vinyl album that I have ever had to replace due to excessive wear from over-playing it. Thrice.
Some twenty-six years after first hearing it, Piece Of Mind remains not only my favourite Iron Maiden album, but arguably my favourite album of all-time. There are a number of things about the record that really stand out for me, but at the top of the list is the debut drum performance by the band’s then-newest member, Nicko McBrain. Dude fucking owns this record like no other in Maiden’s catalogue: from the first drum fill that kicks off “Where Eagles Dare” McBrain bashes his little heart out like a man possessed and does not relent for one second. It’s an outstanding introduction to the band’s masses of fans that definitely won over even the most skeptical. Having said that, the real reason I still love this record as much now as I did then is the songs. Outside of the obvious ‘hits’ like “The Trooper,” “Flight Of Icarus” and “Die With Your Boots On” are solid, under-rated deep album cuts such as “Sunlight And Steel,” “Revelations” and “Still Life” (which is still one of my top three Maiden songs of all time, despite the indifference of most of my friends). I cannot forget to mention the album’s closer “To Tame A Land” as well – the Harris-penned lyrics to the song got me out of reading only comic books and invited me to pick up a copy of Dune when I was twelve. Piece Of Mind is an album that stands the test of time as an entire work and it is one I don’t think I will ever tire of.
My favourite Iron Maiden album is 2006’s A Matter of Life and Death. After the highly enjoyable but almost Spinal Tap-like excesses of Dance Of Death, the band came back with one of the more serious-minded and heaviest albums they’d ever done. I’ve always prefered Iron Maiden in their darker and less lyrically-assured moments, and the newest album has those in spades. Despite the insistence that it was not conceived of as a concept album, there is a marked obsession with the relationship between war, religion and social politics that goes beyond the band’s usual delving into the subjects. As opposed to the frequent historical specifics of so many Maiden songs like “Aces High,” “The Trooper,” and “Paschendale,” the lyrics on A Matter of Life and Death are general enough that they can easily be associated with both the extremely bloody 20th century and the current moment of potentially perpetual war that characterizes the early 21st century. Even without reading any specifics into things, there is a sense of a particular kind of privileged world-weariness that might be found in a very successful middle-aged metal band that has been writing about the many of the same subjects for profit and entertainment for several decades but that has been around long enough to see the repeating cycles of contemporary history.
Musically the band has never been stronger over the course of an entire album. While the other Maiden albums have their multiple timeless classics, A Matter of Life and Death is incredibly strong from start to finish and is best enjoyed as an uninterrupted whole (as was suggested by the playing of the whole thing on the supporting tour). There is little sense of any filler material here. The album also comes off as incredibly self-aware of the band’s history. While it is not a new step for the band by any means, it showcases how comfortable they are in their shoes and their knowledge of what makes them so successful. Opener “Different World” directly harkens the style of post-Brave New World Maiden, while a song such as “These Colors Don’t Run” is a textbook example of a song to be played live with audience participation. “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg” and “For The Greater God of God” definitely come off as a tribute to older singable epics like “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” and “Sign of the Cross.” The closing track “The Legacy” has a slightly different feel to it, and is one of the more haunting and creepy songs that Iron Maiden has ever written. After the seemingly self-satisfied and retrospective comfort of Brave New World and Dance of Death, A Matter of Life and Death feels less relaxed, less sure of the future. To have such subject matter be combined with the still superb musical abilities of Iron Maiden is, strangely enough, a comfort in and of itself.
My favourite Iron Maiden album is Number of the Beast. It was my favourite album, period, when I saw its absolutely spooky and terrifying cover beckoning me from across a crowded record store in the Scarborough Town Centre 25 years ago and when I took it home, opened and played it, it seemed like the gates of some fantastic hell were cast wide in my parents’ living room. Did I mention I was 11 years old at the time? Of course, everyone knows and loves the classics (not to mention the dedication to “headbangers, earthdogs, rivet heads, hell rats and metal maniacs”), but some of my personal favourite Maiden songs were to be found in its wretched grooves: “The Prisoner,” “Gangland,” “22 Acacia Avenue” and “Invaders.” Then again, what do I know? When I told Sean …Beast was my favourite Maiden album, but “Can I Play With Madness?” was my favourite Maiden song, he shook a bottle of Dr. Pepper and aimed it’s carbonated spray at me at Hellbound Radio HQ.
My favourite Iron Maiden album is Brave New World. That’s right. Being a young’un, it wasn’t until well after Bruce Dickinson’s departure that I was introduced to the amazing world of Iron Maiden. With the return of Bruce to the band in 2000, BNW marked a new chapter in the band, and one that I experienced firsthand. Sure, it may not necessarily be their best album, and I love their classic albums to bits – but this will always be my “first” Maiden album. And c’mon… “Out of the Silent Planet”? AMAZING!